What I Wish I'd Known Before Going Vegan

Updated on September 28, 2018
Elisa Hasselkjaer profile image

Without a doubt, going vegan has been the best life decision I have ever made.

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How I Decided to Go Vegan

I’d struggled for a long time with digestion problems, seeing doctors and never quite working out what the problem was. Little did I know before I made the full vegan transition that my body was just not designed for dead animals.

I'd never enjoyed the idea of eating meat. I had tried to get my family on board with quorn as a child, and I had cried at Christmas when I was forced to taste the dead turkey. For a couple of years, before I made the change, I’d just naturally pick out the meat bits from my meal and pass them over to my meat-loving husband.

Then, waking up one day on a blissful holiday in the Maldives, the morning after my husband's dream meal of short-ribs and steak, my husband got out of bed and proclaimed “I’m never eating meat again; I’m going to start following a vegan diet." I didn’t know the number for the emergency services in the Maldives—otherwise I would have been calling them straight away to lock up this imposter and return the three-meat-meals-per-day man I'd married.

It turned out, in his jet-lagged state, that he’d decided to watch some documentaries in the middle of the night, including What the Health. It’s a shocking watch, but also completely sensationalized, so as a true meat lover he followed up with more documentaries and articles to check the facts. Presumably, he was hoping to find it to be a load of nonsense, but he actually found it all to be pretty accurate, except for what it says about the dangers of eating eggs.

Once the shock of his decision settled in, my heart grew happy. I can see now that I’d never wanted to eat animals, but just didn’t see the way out in a world where eating meat is the norm. Plus, having a Spanish mother who is a born feeder and a Danish husband who grew up in bacon-and-milk country—the land where it's quite normal for children to enjoy slaughtering animals—it was just never an option.

The first shock I had entering this world was that cows don’t naturally produce milk! How had I managed to get this far in my life, gotten a good education, traveled the world, and still had no idea that cows don’t happily roam around fields by day and have their teats milked by a fair maiden in the mornings?

The next shock: What on earth happens to male chicks? (If you don’t know, ask Google.) As a primary school teacher, I partook in the hatching eggs experiments. Eggs come into school, chicks hatched, they go off to a happy farm where they just lay eggs. I never questioned it. And I taught whole classes of children about this happy life event.

I’d been lied to my entire life. And then the lies just kept coming. You mean that meat isn’t the only source of protein? And it’s possible to get calcium without having dairy? Next you’re going to tell me that these fierce canines of mine weren’t given to me so I could go out and savage the animals I eat.

Quickly, I came to not believe anything. Looking into it, I found out that our digestive systems, with long winding intestines, are just not made to hold meat. Meat is supposed to pass through our bodies quickly, like in carnivorous animals that have short intestines, rather than in humans where it sits and creates bacteria for days on end. I could see that this was the problem that I’d been struggling with for a long time. There was nothing left to say but “Hello vegan world!”

I often hear people saying that it’s difficult to go vegan from one day to the next but I really disagree here. Fine, it was what I had unknowingly wanted my whole life, but my husband was quite the opposite. I’m lucky it was him that had the realization or I would have had a very hard sell on my hands and this adventure would have been a lot less fun if we weren’t doing it together. So thanks to one trip to the Maldives, literally in the middle of the night, we both went vegan.

Tips for Going Vegan

Here are a few tips that I’d give to anyone at the start of their journey:

  • Probiotics - Oh probiotics! It took me a few weeks to find this one out and in that time I had sleepless nights with a painful stomach the size of a basketball. About two weeks in I felt that I just couldn’t take it anymore. Little did I know that my gut was transitioning and replacing the bad bacteria that had been stored for years with cleaner and healthier bacteria. Taking probiotics instantly helped and within a day I was pain-free.
  • Carry snacks - In the first weeks of transitioning, you have to change a few of your previous habits and having snacks with you definitely helps. It becomes a little more tricky to just grab something on the go and there will come some moments of panic when hunger hits and you just don’t know where to turn. So until you know where all of the good vegan foods are hiding, carry snacks with you.
  • Check menus in advance - a couple of weeks after going vegan and not wanting to be someone who makes things difficult for anyone else, I found myself out for dinner with friends in…a steak restaurant. I was looking at the sides of a garden salad and chips. Not the end of the world, but now I would either call the restaurant in advance or eat beforehand.
  • Google Maps - The Google Maps App (not just the maps app that comes as standard on your phone) has a fantastic feature where you can save places. So whenever I stumble across a good vegan eatery, a coffee shop with vegan options or a vegan supermarket, I now save it and have built up a go-to map for all of my top destinations. Whatever I’m in the mood for; ice cream, pancakes, pizza, burgers, sushi, I now know exactly where to go. This comes in really handy when traveling.
  • Online shopping - I was spending hours trying to get my head around the offerings in my local supermarket. It’s funny how many foods eggs and milk manage to creep their way into. Then I discovered, by shopping online, I could filter the products by vegan and save myself a lot of time.
  • Substitute - Having just picked the meat bits out of meals before making the change, I can see that that was really unhealthy. Make sure that your diet is balanced and substitute away. I am a big foodie and love nothing more than the old comfort classics, and really there is nothing that I can’t get in vegan form. My husband and I love finding delicious dishes either trying new restaurants or to cook at home.
  • Build a vegan network - You will hear it all; “If we weren’t supposed to eat meat then…”, “I love cheese too much”, “I love animals but I could never stop eating meat”, “Adopt don’t shop..yum, a burger!”. All made worse when coming from your nearest and dearest. Make sure you have some vegan buddies to share your experiences with. I’m so lucky that my husband is on this journey with me and really don’t know what I would do if I was having to watch him shoveling a dead body into his mouth every day. But also just having him to offload to when yet another illogical comment is made has been incredibly therapeutic.

Best Life Decision I've Made

Without a doubt, going vegan has been the best life decision I have ever made. I have so much more energy (so much that caffeine has now also gone), I know I’m not poisoning my body unnecessarily and having seen the effects of cancers caused by lifestyle, I know it’s not something I would ever want to put my body through. I know that I won’t ever need to worry about cholesterol like my family have.

I feel empowered that I have the awareness now to question the narratives that we’re fed through childhood. In this day, where we can see so clearly through politics and media that we’re fed lies in order to help certain people get what they want, I know now not to trust what I’m told.

I visit beautiful corners of the world that are being damaged and destroyed through climate change and know that I’ve significantly lowered my personal impact on this detrimental crisis.

And every time I see an animal, I now feel a strong connection knowing that I will never again knowingly make any choice that exploits, harms or kills another living being.

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